The most elite and internationally recognizable competition for sports has long been the Olympic Games. Divided into summer and winter competitions, athletes compete against the best from around the world. The Olympics set the stage for showcasing this talent. Since racquetball’s inception, the sport has never been included in the Olympic Games.
Many factors contribute to racquetball’s exclusion from the Olympic Games, but the most prominent is the small scope of the sport. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants to include sports that are popular around the world and would attract many spectators worldwide.
Just because racquetball has not been included in the past, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a possibility for its inclusion in the future. But given the variety of factors that have contributed to its exclusion, this possibility will likely take time and further expansion of the sport’s popularity across the globe.
Reasons Why Racquetball is Not in the Olympics
1. Not popular enough
Racquetball’s popularity is a major reason for its exclusion on the Olympic stage. With its concentration being mostly in the Americas for participation and high-level players, the IOC has little incentive to make it an addition to the Summer Games.
2. Not spectator friendly
When asked about racquetball, the IOC has, also mentioned that it is a challenging sport for spectators to keep up with. When considering its hectic manner and limited viewing angles, they feel it would not draw audiences as other sports do.
3. Low worldwide competition
Another factor that influences racquetball’s inclusion is its competition. Similar sports such as tennis, badminton, and squash are considerably more popular across the world. Tennis and Badminton are Olympic sports, while Squash is not.
Squash has never been included in the Olympics even though it has major popularity across the world. If Squash has had no success in being added to the competition list, racquetball will face even greater challenges.
4. High infrastructure costs
It has also been argued that the construction of racquetball courts is much costlier and takes up more space than a badminton court, for instance. The unique box must be constructed entirely, while a badminton court is flat and requires a net. This would deter host countries from making the investment in the sport’s inclusion as well.
Factors Considered to Become an Olympic Sport
- Past inclusion and history of the sport
- Business model
- Value Added
- Governance, gender equality
The IOC and host nation take all of these factors into consideration to see if a sport is viable.
Past inclusion and history
Because of the fairly short history of racquetball and its lack of inclusion in previous games, the IOC does not necessarily see the game as a necessary addition.
Hosting the games is a very expensive endeavor for a nation. They want to make sure that every sport included will either make a profit or at least be able to sustain itself.
This ties closely to ticket sales for sporting events, television
The lack of popularity might possibly attract fewer advertisements and sponsorships during the televised hours of such a sport. Added value is also an important component.
If the sport does not attract audiences or encourage people to further support the Olympics and its movement, there is little incentive to fight for it. All of these factors are taken into consideration and make a current argument against the inclusion of racquetball.
Racquetball’s Future in the Summer Olympics
USA Racquetball has been trying to get the sport added for decades, with little success. They even moved their headquarters to Colorado Springs, which is close to the Olympic Training Center.
Major investments of time and money were funneled toward this effort but ultimately to no avail. Many argue that this money could have been spent on increasing overall participation on a local scale.
Is there any chance?
The best chance at racquetball’s inclusion is for a host country to nominate it. The host country has the ability to nominate sports for their Games, which are then voted on.
Because racquetball is concentrated in the Americas, its best chance of success will be if the Games are hosted there. Even then, it will need to be voted on by other nations. With little recognition around the world, its chances of survival are questionable
Racquetball has been a professional sport in the men’s and women’s games since the 1980s. The men currently play on the International Racquetball Tour, and the women play on the Ladies Professional Racquetball Tour.
Players from across the world compete in tournaments held mostly in the American nations. The men’s tour features over 300 players competing for prize money and elite rankings. The women’s tour is set up similarly, competing mostly in North and South America.
Professional tours offer multiple events, including:
- Men’s singles
- Men’s doubles
- Women’s singles
- Women’s doubles
Highly ranked players will not only represent their national teams but compete professionally against other elite players. Rankings are an essential part of racquetball. They determine matchups in future tournaments, qualification for specific tournaments, endorsement deals, and awards based on this success.
Like most professional sports, many players depend on sponsorships and endorsements in addition to match winnings for income. The most elite men’s players make around $300k a year including winnings, endorsements, and appearances.
Keep in mind that this is a very elite group of athletes, while most professional racquetball players earn significantly less. The purse for single tournaments is much lower than other sports, being divided among the top placing players.
Professional racquetball follows a majority of the same rules as your standard game. Both men’s and women’s pro games play to 11 points with a 2-point win vs. 15 points and a 1-point win in everyday play. Court hinders (mistakes that are caused by flaws on the court) are not called or allowed unless on serve in very specific circumstances.
Appearance and apparel are also important components of the game, especially for men. This requires collared shirts or specific athletic material tops. Eyewear is required in both the men’s and women’s games. They must maintain a professional appearance that may be approved or denied by the officiants.
A niche sport
Professional racquetball is still fairly small compared to its tennis and squash counterparts, especially tennis. Because racquetball is a niche sport, it does not have a significant number of elite clubs across the country.
College programs are also often intramural with no NCAA sanction in the United States. With a more limited scope for elite development, this results in fewer elite players around the world.
If the sport is able to grow in participation, we may see an increase in these elite clubs, and therefore, more professionals.
Countries Where Racquetball is Popular
As racquetball was created in the United States, its popularity has stayed regional. Racquetball is played primarily across the Americas.
This includes North America, Central America, and South America. This can be attributed to its roots in the United States and the short-lived popularity it had. With fairly limited popularity among all levels of play, this makes it more difficult to gain dominance on a world stage.
As American players needed competition, spreading to bordering and nearby nations only made sense. If you look up the ranking of players in both the men’s and women’s games, the top 40 players on both sides hail from this region of the world.
The most dominant players come from:
- United States
Other countries have players of high rank, mostly concentrated in South America, but these are the most repetitive nations in terms of dominance.
Mexico has grown as a racquetball powerhouse, arguably passing the United States in caliber. Nearly half of the top 10 players on the men’s and women’s side are from Mexico. The remaining in the top tier are a mix from the United States and Canada primarily.
While not being represented at the Olympics, other prestigious competitions allow for these players to compete at an incredibly high level.
International Racquetball Federation
The International Racquetball Federation (IRF) hosts the IRF World Championships every 2 years. Most of the past competitions have been held in the Americas, with teams from the region dominating.
Another major stage for racquetball is the Pan American Games. This competition hosts a variety of summer sports competitions for countries within the Americas. Racquetball has been included since 1995, only being excluded in the 2007 Games.
All things considered
If racquetball can widen its scope beyond the Americas, it will have a better chance of being an Olympic contender. This can and should start at a more grassroots level. If organizations are able to expand to new nations and introduce the game to younger people, then its popularity will increase.
Popularity is a crucial component in determining which Olympic sports are included, and racquetball would only benefit if it increased its participation. Greater participation only increases the level of competition as well. More players mean more competition, which would make the game even more exciting to watch and play!